5 Bad Arguments Keeping Your Agency From 21st Century Technology


Government agencies don’t typically lead the charge in technology innovation. And this isn’t necessarily the fault of those in government. IT professionals are bound by restrictive procurement regulations, inflexible budgets, and general bureaucracy inherent in large government organizations.

Too often, however, IT project teams create additional blockages that prevent investments in the latest technology the 21st century has to offer. While these arguments sound reasonable, they often don’t hold water upon closer inspection. Let’s discuss some of these arguments and why they should be avoided.

  1. “We have already invested a lot of money in this existing project.”

This is a classic example of the sunk cost fallacy. When emotional and monetary investments in a particular project accumulate over time, the harder it becomes to abandon it. Rationally, previous investments you cannot recoup (sunk costs) should not influence your decisions for future improvements. If an application or product is failing to meet your agency’s needs, there is no justification for its continued use. To avoid clouding future innovation, agency IT professionals need to detach themselves from the investment they have already made in existing projects and use new capital to move their agencies forward.

  1. “We don’t want to be the first adopter.”

Government agencies can’t innovate in the 21st century if budding technology companies aren’t given a chance. To be fair, however, it’s not easy for agencies with mission-critical operations to take risks on unproven technology providers. However, young companies are hungry and willing to do the extra work to prove their worth. This means deep price cuts, highly-attentive and responsive customer service, and a lead role in defining the nascent product roadmap with your agency’s feedback.

  1. “They haven’t worked with an agency just like us.”

In order to validate the track record of a product or company, agencies will seek references from their current customers before making any procurement decisions. While it may seem natural to focus on the 5-10 customers that look and operate exactly like your agency, this approach can create expectations that are impossible to fill and preclude certain options from even getting in the door. In reality, how many agencies are exactly like yours? A better test of a product’s fit should start with determining the objectives you’re trying to achieve, and finding a set of references whose cross-section covers those objectives. That way, IT project teams can evaluate technical capabilities while still confirming the vendor has demonstrated success in multiple customer environments.

  1. “We don’t have money in the budget.”

While available funds may be the ultimate reason that an agency can’t procure some product, it should never be the first reason that precludes the agency from acquiring new technology. To start, the budget shouldn’t be the only place an agency looks for capital. There are myriad grants that are widely available to many government missions, agencies, and initiatives. It’s important for agencies to challenge vendors to go forth and find applicable grants to cover the cost of their product and fulfill the agency’s mission goals. If, after an exhaustive search, the vendor hasn’t found any relevant grants, there is almost always some arrangement that can be made in structuring payment terms that will work for the agency. Vendors should be more than willing to offer options like deferred payments or periodic discounts in the contract terms. If money is the ultimate blocker on a technology procurement, at least be certain that you and your desired vendor have made a joint effort to explore different funding sources and payment structures that could potentially work for your agency.

  1. “There is too much going on right now.”

There is always a lot going on! That is simply the nature of government work. “There’s no time like the present” is a cliché, but it certainly rings true here. While it’s easy to avoid the effort and challenges associated with implementing a new technology product for an agency, IT professionals must also balance that against the inefficiency and pain presented by using the current system installed today. Committing to implementing a new product sooner rather than later is very much like compound interest. The earlier you invest, the more dividends you will enjoy later on. For every day, month, or year that you wait, you have forever lost the opportunity to invest in your department and enjoy the efficiencies that a new solution brings you. Starting a project now means the benefits will come sooner.

Change isn’t easy, and that is often made harder by easily misinformed arguments thrown up by members of an agency project team. It is important to step back and make sure you’re disqualifying projects for only valid reasons, versus falling into traps that keep your agency behind. Stay objective and honest about what it will take to get a project done, and be aware of the above arguments that can prevent you from moving forward.

Matthew Polega is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Amy Conant

You make some great points, and I agree with all of them. I’ve seen these issues in public and private sector. What I was hoping to see was some good methodology for getting past the above statements. How do we get staff to move beyond the over spent money on a bad application.

Brady Smithsund

In government, much like in our personal lives, there will always be reasons not to do something. Change is never easy, but more often than not the result of the change is extremely beneficial! Great article.

Rey Garza

Its one thing to acquire the technology…Then next part is acquiring and maintaining the right amount of staff to keep it running to fulfill the mission–Leadership needs to see the vision from concept to execution and make those hard decisions how to improve the best practice for continuity.